Teacher resources and professional development across the curriculum

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2. Learning as We Grow - Development and Learning

Session Content Outline


Key Questions
  • How do children develop and learn?
  • How can teachers support students' development and learning?

Learning Objectives
  • Pathways for development – Teachers will understand that students develop along several developmental pathways, all of which interact and play a part in a students' learning. Teachers will learn how they can enhance learning by observing their students and supporting their development across these pathways.
  • Developmental progression – Teachers will understand that development progresses sequentially, that teaching is more effective when it is appropriate to students' developmental stages and within their "zones of proximal development," and that development can be supported by teaching.
  • Assessing and supporting readiness – Teachers will begin to recognize students' developmental signs of readiness across the different pathways. Teachers will understand the need to assess students' current levels of skill and understanding to make decisions about what students are ready to learn and how they can best be taught.

Session Outline

Children's growth and development occurs across several interrelated yet distinct domains, including physical, mental, social, emotional, and moral. Two important themes are central to understanding children's progress through their developmental stages. First, physical, cognitive, emotional, and social changes are all occurring simultaneously. Although these arenas develop simultaneously, they do not necessarily develop in tandem.

Second, all of the internal changes that children and adolescents experience at their important transition points are mirrored by profound changes in their peer, school, and family lives. Understanding development requires not only a consideration of the "whole child," but also the whole child developing in particular social contexts.


Developmental Pathways

To understand and support the development and learning of her students, a teacher must be able to take a developmental perspective. This includes understanding that children move through several stages or sequences of development and that they develop through several "pathways of development." These pathways include:

  • Physical pathway: the normal course and variability of overall physical development
  • Social-interactive pathway: children's increasing ability to communicate and interact with a variety of people in all social situations
  • Emotional pathway: the child's growing ability to recognize, respond to, and "manage" feelings – what some might call the development of "emotional intelligence"
  • Cognitive pathway: refers to how information is processed, assimilated, and used in an increasingly sophisticated manner as children develop
  • Linguistic pathway: refers to the development of both expressive and receptive communication abilities
  • Psychological pathway: refers to the development of a sense of self
  • Ethical/moral pathway: refers to the ability to understand moral thoughts and action; to respect the rights of others; to evaluate one's own behavior; and to act in the interests of others as well as oneself.

Developmentally Appropriate Teaching

Piaget described three aspects of cognitive growth:

  • Children develop "mental structures" as they gain skills and experiences
  • These structures form when the child acts on objects in the environment or when she performs "operations"
  • The child's intelligence advances through a sequence of "stages" that change the way the child thinks and acts.

Developmental Readiness
  • Developmental theory includes the concept of readiness for learning.
  • Vygotsky and Piaget agreed that teaching should respond to the child's developmental stage.
  • Piaget believed that the child is primarily an independent learner.
  • Vygotsky, however, believed that individual capacities develop in social contexts designed to support them.
  • According to Vygotsky, learning that takes place externally in a social context is gradually internalized by the individual: social knowledge becomes individual knowledge.
  • Vygotsky believed that cognitive development is

    supported through language, cultural symbols and tools

    nurtured by teachers and caregivers within a particular students' zone of proximal development (ZPD).

  • Vygotsky suggested that students could be helped to develop if they are taught at the appropriate level, rather than the teacher merely waiting for greater maturity to make them ready.

Supporting Learning as Children Grow

Developmentally appropriate practice in early and middle childhood education has several features.

  • The curriculum attends to social, emotional, and physical goals as well as cognitive ones.
  • A wide variety of learning experiences, materials and equipment, and instructional strategies is used strategically to accommodate individual differences in children's learning and interests.
  • Curriculum and instruction support individual, cultural, and linguistic diversity and encourage positive relationships with children's families.
  • Curriculum builds on what children already know are able to do (activating prior knowledge) to consolidate their learning and foster acquisition of new concepts and skills.
  • The curriculum encourages children to learn actively – by observing, collecting information, describing, counting, manipulating, and using what they have studied.
  • Content and skills of application are linked rather than taught in isolation, so as to encourage development of thinking, reasoning, decision-making, and problem solving.
  • To the greatest extent possible, teaching reflects children's naturally recurring learning cycle that begins with awareness and progresses through exploration, inquiry, and use of constructed knowledge in authentic applications. Teachers help children see how learning developed previously can be applied in the current situation.
  • Teachers convey respect for children's thinking by probing thinking with questions such as, "What happens if . . .?" and "What else works like this?" and by using mistakes as occasions for further learning (National Association for the Education of Young Children, 2002).

In later childhood and adolescence, developmentally appropriate teaching has many of the same features. However, a qualitative change in thinking occurs with the transition from concrete operations to formal operations.

As students progress cognitively, they move beyond one-to-one correspondence to manipulating variables in more complicated ways, looking for patterns, and thinking abstractly.


Developing Readiness

Teaching in "developmentally appropriate" ways means –

  • being cognizant of where students are in the processes of their development and taking advantage of their readiness.
  • teaching to support development, not simply waiting for students to be ready (Bruner, 1960).

What can a teacher do to teach for readiness?

  • Teachers can use practices that are attuned to students' existing skills and ways of learning while developing new understanding and providing the tools that are needed for the next stage.
  • Teachers can help students become ready to comprehend the upper stages of higher order thinking.
  • Teachers can use children's experiences strategically in encouraging their further development.

The Importance of Context: Stage-Environment Fit
  • Teachers can set the stage for students by creating developmentally appropriate classrooms and schools in which their learning can unfold in synch with their development.
  • Although supporting development is important, David Elkind cautions that hurrying a child's growth too much can increase stress and create personal identity problems.
  • Researchers have learned that academic achievement, mental health, and identity develop optimally when the school and home environment "fit" the child's needs.
  • A developmentally healthy environment will support ways in which cognitive reasoning develops with healthy identity development and moral reasoning about how to support and care for others.
  • Developmentally appropriate schools understand that students learn through social interaction as well as individual effort; thus, they are collaborative.

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